Gone, but not forgotten…

I can count on one hand the amount of conversations I’ve had with Ernie Pena over the years. In fact, most of our interactions consisted of a simple smile and a head nod. Still, the news of his sudden passing calls for some sort of acknowledgment, even if it’s from someone like me who may have only known him from a distance.

Scrolling down my Facebook timeline and seeing what different friends have to say about Ernie, the word that I see over and over again next to his name is “Community”, which says a lot about what he represented. He was the familiar face behind the camera, snapping away and capturing precious moments at various events in the LA/Southern California Filipino community. A lot of times, we tend to tune out that photographer or videographer. We don’t pay it any mind at the time, but after that amazing, empowering event is all said and done, what’s one of the first things we look for? It’s those photos and videos documenting our shared experiences.

When I’m old and gray, sitting on a rocking chair, and telling my grandkids how I used to be a rapper in a live hip hop band, there’s a good chance that the evidence I’ll use to prove my sanity will be photos that Ernie took during our performances, most notably at the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC).

As an organizer and member of the Community (however you choose to define that), I’m realizing more and more just how truly important it is to be a cultural worker and documentarian — whether it’s through music, photos, videos, painting, poetry, etc. It’s not about the critical acclaim or personal gain. It’s not just art for art’s sake. It’s about telling the stories of the People and so much more.

I send my thoughts and prayers out to Ernie’s family and friends. Again, since I didn’t know him personally, I hope I’m not overstepping any boundaries here, but I at least wanted to share the little I knew about him with the rest of the world, just as he’s done for so many of our folks. As someone else stated:

"Ernie, please make sure your photo archives are accessible by us here in the mortal world, because your photos captured Filipino American life in the past decade-plus, and should be preserved for posterity. When Fil-Ams of the future want to see what we looked like and were doing in the early 21st century, they’ll likely be looking at a photo that you took. Rest in peace and may God be with you, kaibigan."

Here’s some footage I shot of the Native Guns reunion at the 20th Annual Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) last September. When it was announced that they’d be the headliners, I was happy to hear it, but also not as hyped as I thought I would be. I’ve seen them a bunch of times since ‘05 and have a lot of their songs memorized, so I figured it wouldn’t be anything new, but boy, was I wrong.

Once the intro started playing, it brought me back to when I was first exposed to their music, which was also when I started getting more politicized. Prior to them, the only other Filipino I knew about in hip hop was apl.de.ap from Black Eyed Peas, and he never really dove too deep. With Native Guns, they dropped so much knowledge about Fil-Am issues (like identity), our people’s history, and the country’s colonial relationship with the United States — it was mind blowing.

As an MC, who also happens to be Filipino, they had a major impact on my music and inspired me to document my own self-discovery via hip hop. Their music really started me on the path of toward a cultural (re)awakening that still continues to this day, which is why I always say that they’ve been the most influential hip hop group for me…hands down.

Another Ruby Ibarra post for y’all.

Check my YouTube channel for footage of other dope artists!

I just came across this video. That’s us (The Committee) at 01:33. The little dude at 0:46 steals the show though!

The Committee performing “Coming of Age” at FPAC 20.

This is one of my favorite songs of ours because it’s a reflection of how we’ve grown over the years and our different outlook from when we first got together in college. I’m not saying that we’ve lost our politically militant spirit, but we’re older now and have grown folk responsibilities to take care of. I think all of us want to have families of our own someday, but we also don’t want to be broke and living check to check. Isn’t that part of the “struggle” that we’re fighting for in the first place?

On a lighter note, I like how our practices are a lot more structured than they were in the past. Before, we used to show up hella late, bullshit for an hour and then kind of wing it. Now, we try to arrive promptly at the scheduled time and call if we’re running late. We figure out how long we’re practicing for and do a good job of checking each other throughout the night, “Time check:________, let’s get back on it.” With as busy as we are with other things, we can’t afford to waste time. Trust me, we still have a lot of fun, but we’re just more on point this time around.

This is coming of age, we breaking outta the cage
New goals, new sights, as we turning the page
This is coming of age, I’m still clenchin’ my fist
An understand of the system that the struggle exists

This is coming of age, just a brand new perspective
The story of my journey so my people feel connected
This is coming of age on the wheels of life
Happy endings, new beginnings, I’ma be alright…


5th Born
A working class root to a middle class youth
Saw mom and pops struggle as real class proof
That the system is built to keep shifting the wealth
Cause the more money they made the more it was hell
Pops broke the bank just to pay my tuition
Got his boy through college and accomplished his mission
Now I stand tall with a 4 year degree
But my salary is low I’m still fighting to be free
When they evaluate me they look at credit and gross
But what I net ain’t shit I’m turning less into most
To find a balance is a challenge cause I love the finer things
I want a paid off crib and buy my girl a diamond ring
So the system does matter when I’m climbing the ladder
And I promise to give back when my pockets are fatter
Outside my 9 to 5 I’m dedicated to change
You know the deal, keep it real, we all playing the same game


With age comes wisdom and much reflection
It’s inevitable that change of one’s perspective
Will happen in fact it’s impactin’ my actions
I just got engaged and family’s my passion
But a house with a picket fence
Is on that next level above payin’ the rent
So I navigate a system that I know is corrupt
In my attempt to climb a ladder that can lead to more bucks
At the same time slowly curbin’ down what I owe
I can see the end of the tunnel just past my student loan
I appreciate the bumpy road, from debt to credit
It taught me what’s important for that I am indebted
Real talk the simple things are great
Clothes on my back, roof over head, and food on plate
Stronger focus of mind I apply every day
Hard work and dedication there to pave the way


23 was the age that I graduated school
Gettin’ hella faded having fun breaking rules
Up in the clouds, life so out of balance
Immature in my mind, discipline was a challenge
Took a couple years and a couple mistakes
To make me realize I can’t live that way
Moved to Santa Cruz for school, near the Bay
New people, new perspective, if you can relate
Deeper dedication for national democracy
Study MLM for a sharper ideology
Steeped in theory, stepped up my practice
Self-criticism to change up my actions
Now my future isn’t only my own
Simple living, meet my needs as I think of the whole
Collective, because my future goals are connected
To advance the revolution in the victory direction


From the ivory towers to the 9 to 5 grind
From a 40 oz. bottle to a fine red wine
Not a kid anymore, got a new state of mind
Gettin’ grown, at a new place in life
Not just living for today, I’m thinking ahead
401(k), finding ways to get rid of debt
It took years to build up my good credit
Tryna save money, no unnecessary spending
Attending weddings, now my friends having kids
Got me thinking that I might be finally ready for it
Dividing my time with Music and the Movement
Integrating art with a message, a perfect union
Tryna find a balance, fighting contradictions
Winning little battles cuz it’s a game of inches
The one guarantee in life is change
I’m not a slave to the past, I’m breaking free from the chains


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Here’s a clip of me and the rest of The Committee performing “Beautiful Thing” (also viewable in HD) at the 20th Annual Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) earlier this month.

Since FPAC has given us so much love over the years, it was only fitting that we made our official announcement that we’re finally going to put out an album next year. Be sure to “Like” us on Facebook to stay updated on all the latest news. We’ll be posting new videos and possibly some behind the scenes stuff too.

"Love, Peace & Hip Hop…it’s a Beautiful Thing"

The resilient spirit of the people in the struggle
Or watching Jeopardy and answering the Daily Double
A dope DJ playing all the jams
The tiny footprints of a child in the sand
Beautiful like the moment of the first kiss
Floating in the clouds, knowing the wait was worth it
Make your plans, follow through
That’s what you do, make your dreams come true

Beautiful like alternative outlets for news
That challenge prevailing wisdoms of truth
Beautiful like fight night with Pacquiao in the ring
And hearing 50 Pilipinos in the house scream
Beautiful like creativity in practice
Witnessing first hand another person’s passion
Beautiful like 5pm on Friday
And driving home with no traffic on the highway

5th Born
It’s Beautiful like art with a message
Talking to your elders, a history lesson
It’s Beautiful like when the present meets the past
Inspired young minds ahead of the class
It’s Beautiful like a community collective
Artists in the streets out there painting new perspectives
It’s Beautiful like watching passionate dancers
Shouting in a rally screaming for answers


Beautiful like the Love between my parents
The flame still burning 38 years of marriage
Extra cash, when it’s tax season
The buzz in the air right before a long weekend
Beautiful after all of this time
The Committee: still together, developing rhymes
Spending hours digging in crates
The sound of an old record as it rotates

Beautiful like the pure joy of my nephew
Having enough money when the rent is due
Reading a book that challenges my view
Or just relaxing on a Sunday afternoon
Beautiful like visiting my family
And close friends that are all up in the Bay
Beautiful like hearing Ribbon in the Sky being played
Or better yet, Stevie Wonder live on stage

5th Born
Beautiful like the sights of the city
That you rep everyday on your 59/50
Beautiful like a clean pair of kicks
That you match with your shirt that you threw in the mix
Beautiful like when she smiles your way
Hand in hand, I’m yo man, yes is what you gotta say
Beautiful like LA with no traffic
And I never get lost cause I always google map it…




Check out this interview with The Committee after they performed at the 20th annual Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) this past weekend.  The group features two of our very own Anakbayan LA members, Eric and Romeo.

I <3 The Committee!!  So happy for this reunion and excited to hear some new jams from them!  Woop woop!  

And AB represent! :)

Here’s an interview my group did on Saturday. We didn’t have one at the time, but you can now check out The Committee’s Facebook page.

FPAC Recap…

My first exposure to the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) was in 2005, and I’ve attended ever since. As an artist, this is always one of my favorite venues/events to perform at because it’s such a great community vibe. Back in our formative years, my hip hop group The Committee has been able to network with people that we’re still friends with to this day. But even when you take away the music element, I’ve still met some really cool people throughout the years. It’s a great feeling to walk through a sea of faces and bump into someone around every corner. I’m not saying it’s a popularity contest, but it’s more like, “Wow…I’m really a part of this Community. These are my folks.”

And speaking of folks, I have to give a shout out to all my peeps who rocked the stage this weekend: Shining Sons, Krystle Tugadi, and Rhythm Natives. On top of that, I finally got a chance to see Ruby Ibarra perform live. Damn, yo…that is one vicious MC!!! And of course, there was the Native Guns reunion. I’ll admit that my initial reaction wasn’t what I expected. I thought “ah…they always make the cameo appearances throughout each other’s sets, it’s nothing new.” But all of that went out the window once they started performing. It brought me back to ‘05 and ‘06 when I first got exposed to their music and showed me that you can be proud of being Filipino and still be dope behind the mic. It’s really hard to express how much of an influence they’ve had on my music, but Bambu probably said it best in his song Old Man Raps, “I’m a pioneer to all these Filipinos you hear / got a boost when the Native Guns’ music appeared.

Ultimately though, the highlight of this weekend was being able to perform with the original members of The Committee again. I think since our band parted ways a couple years ago, I’ve always kind of held on to the hope that maybe we can get a new band going but after these last few weeks of practicing with the original members and sticking with a DJ, I’m truly ready to move on. Not to be too big headed about it, but we can confidently say that we killed it on Saturday!! It was a huge difference between that and the Tuesday Night Cafe set we did earlier in the week. Thanks to video footage and the raw, honest feedback from our friends, we were able to work out a lot of the kinks and had a much stronger set by the time we took the stage on Saturday.

Aside from the personal feelings we had about our performance, we had a lot of friends/fans who’ve seen us from the very beginning and said that it was one of our best shows. That really meant a lot coming from them, especially when you consider that we haven’t performed together in such a long time. But what got me most excited was the crowd reaction after we made a certain announcement (I’ll post the video soon). I can’t even front, it made me feel all giddy inside. haha!! To quote one James Todd Smith, “Don’t call it a comeback, [we’ve] been here for years…”

Oh and one last thing, I really need to give an extra special shout out to the event organizers and volunteers!! They were always available to answer any questions we had leading up to the event and even accommodated a last minute schedule change for us because one member had some unexpected plans that came up. Even though the performance schedule was already distributed to the artists and pretty much set for both days, they still asked around and got us switched from Sunday to Saturday. Our set wouldn’t have been the same if we were missing a member, so THANK YOU FilAm Arts!!